Thursday, December 24, 2009

Highlights of 2009

Lots of things to like about 2009. Here are just a handful of them:
On our annual visit home to California, this time we also got to take a trip with my brother Kevin, his wife Cheryl and our cousin Ann.
Aki really liked the Grand Canyon and I really enjoyed Las Vegas! :)
Going to Yosemite is always one of our favorite places too.

I also had the pleasure of visiting Bruce in Krabi,Thailand. He took me kayaking to one of his secret spots. The food, the Thai massages, the smiles, I just love that country.

My passion for teaching English is still strong. Along with teaching the adults & kids at my school,

I also started teaching at Tokai University.

Winning the "Over 40" Shonan Basketball tournament was very exciting. I'm lucky to be on a team with some former (Japanese) college players and one who even played semi-pro ball (company league). We are also quite tall for a Japanese team. Our starting 5 (which I'm not) averages over 6 feet tall.Going back for my 25-year high school reunion was also very special to me. I hadn't seen most of the guys & gals for 20 years plus. It felt really good to see the old familiar faces again. (pictures on my October Blog)

But the biggest and best news of 2009 was Aki becoming pregnant!
We're expecting our first baby (a boy!) in Feb. 2010! Everybody look out for the Year of the "Taiga" (Tiger).

On a sad note, we saw the passing of our dear Grandpa Henry. We were all hoping he'd make it to the century mark and he almost did. He lived life to its fullest and I will strive to do the same.

Monday, November 30, 2009

"Shichi-go-san"(七五三) & "Koyo"(紅葉)

November 15 is "shichi-go-san.(七五三)" It is the event where parents celebrate a child's growth. "Shichi-go-san" means "seven-five-three." Three or seven year-old girls and five-year old boys are taken to a temple or shrine and the parents pray for their future health and happiness. Children usually wear traditional kimonos and take pictures at a professional studio.

We enjoyed being a part of our (Aki's) nieces celebration this past month. Here are some pictures of lovely Nana-chan (7) and Hana-chan (3).

November is also the best month of the year to see and enjoy the beautiful "koyo(紅葉)" (colorful leaves). I am sometimes asked if the leaves change colors in California or if we have 4 seasons (Yes, we do!). Many think that California has just one season, summer! The leaves do change colors in California albeit you cannot see such brilliant shades of reds, oranges and yellows as you do here in Japan. Here are some pictures of my recent trip to Kyoto(京都)/Arashiyama(嵐山).

Friday, October 30, 2009

25-year high school reunion

I can't believe it's been 25 years since I've graduated from Tokay High School in Lodi, CA. Reconnecting with my old high school friends was definitely worth the 10,000 mile (16,000 Kms) round-trip between Tokyo and San Francisco. I haven't really seen nor kept in touch with most of these friends since high school. But recently, thanks to Facebook, I've been back in touch. In fact, the whole event was organized through Facebook. I have to admit, I was feeling a little nervous going back and seeing my old pals that I hadn't seen in such a long time. It really helped that Sean (AKA Rusty) hosted poker at his house the night before and I could hangout with some of the boys. One of the highlights was seeing some of the old Morada gang (friends from my neighborhood). We went to school together from elementary through high school. They all looked great. And my first girlfriend (when I was 10) was informally voted "Ms. Reunion Queen", haha.

It was interesting to see how the football studs and the cheerleaders/drill team dancers were still the life of the party (the water polo guys fared pretty well too, hehe). The nice thing was that we all weren't as "clickish" as we were back in high school. People mingled about freely and everyone seemed to be happy and content as we enter midlife. It was also great to hear how successful many of our classmates are: New York Life Insurance Co. pres., pilot, fire fighter, teacher, UPS driver, etc. The biggest surprise was a former teammate on my JV basketball team becoming a doctor, JK Carlos! :) Maybe the most successful was Rick Sayre. He became Pixar Animation Studio's Supervising Technical Director. Even back at Davis Elementary School we knew he was way smart and would become a famous scientist (or animation director).

My claim to fame back in high school was to have played on the most different sports teams (basketball, football, soccer, swimming & water polo). Too bad I'm the only one who knows about this! haha The good thing about playing many different sports was that I got to be friends with guys from various sports teams. Those are the guys who made my high school days so much fun.

One difference between high school reunions in Japan and the US is that in the US, our reunions are held every 5 (or 10) years after graduating. They also include the entire class that graduated that year. There were nearly 500 students who graduated from my high school as the "Class of 1984". Japanese high schools are generally much smaller (one reason is that there are only 3 grades, 10th-12th). In contrast, I've heard many of my students in Japan talk about their junior high (or even elementary school) reunions. These usually just include their homeroom class. Husbands/wives also never attend the reunions with their spouses in Japan. This also holds true for company parties too. My wife didn't make it to my 25-year reunion but maybe she will to the next. Come to think of it, she'd probably be bored stiff so we'll see. Either way, I look forward to the next one which some people are already planning! :)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What I miss about America

Of course what I miss most about America are my family and friends. But besides them, these are the things I miss the most. I miss the friendly people and spontaneous conversation that pops up almost anywhere you go. These are things that I would have never even thought I liked until now. For example, when I was shopping at Costco in Stockton the last time I was home, I only had a few items in my cart, the person in front of me said, "Oh, please go ahead". Then the next person in front of me said the same thing! Speaking of Costco, I miss not being able to go there at the spur of the moment and the drive taking only 10 minutes (from my parents' house). When we go to Costco here, it takes us 90 minutes to drive to Yokohama. And it costs over $50 bucks just on highway tolls and gas!

Let's talk food. Many people make fun of "American" food and say how lousy it is. I can't really argue against that but what I can argue about is that we have a huge variety of cuisines to choose from. My hometown is just slightly larger than Odawara but we have a wide variety of ethnic foods and some of the best Mexican, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants. And until a few years ago, my friend, James, ran a restaurant called Yonedas that served some of the best Japanese food found in California. I also miss "mall food" such as "Cinnabon", "Mrs. Fields Cookies" and "Auntie Anne's Pretzels". Oh, and I miss "Jamba Juice"!

I miss being able to go out with $40 bucks (4000 yen) and not feel so poor. OK, that was awhile ago but it does go much further than it will here. I also used to love to go to the local park/school (or even in my backyard) and play basketball, for free! Here if you don't belong to a team (luckily I do), it's nearly impossible to play. This is the same for tennis. Back home, you can play tennis for free at the neighborhood park. Here you have to join a club (usually $100/month) or make a reservation to use the city facilities ($6/hour).

Finally, I miss the diversity of people we have in the states and the abundance of beautiful nature. Snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada, uncrowded clean beaches and the big blue sky are all in my state, the "Golden State" of California. Someday I'd like to return to my home country. But right now, I'm very very happy to be here. :)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Reverend Yoshio Iwanaga is credited with introducing Bon Odori (盆踊り) to the Continental United States in 1930—first while visiting the Stockton Buddhist Temple which was established in 1906 by a group of Japanese immigrants.

This is coincidentally the temple in my hometown. It is now an annual summer event at (Jodoshinshu 浄土真宗) Buddhist temples all across the states. The dancing in yukatas and playing of the taiko 太鼓 (drum) is always very popular for both young & old, Japanese-American & non-Japanese-American and Buddhists & non-Buddhists alike. There are also many food stalls selling chicken teriyaki, kushiyaki, corn on the cob, curry rice, udon, tempura, hamburgers, sodas & beer. Kids can enjoy playing many games and there's BINGO, a raffle and even gambling games for adults. Obon time was always one of the highlights of my summer as a kid. In high school, me and my buddies from the Stockton Buddhist Temple would pile into a car or maybe even two and make the road-trips to all the area Obon festivals (Mountain View, San Jose, Palo Alto, Sacramento, etc.). Us Stockton guys were kind of the "cool" guys (LOL) and sometimes trouble would follow us. But basically, we had friends in each city and just enjoyed seeing them, especially the girls, haha!

The origin of Obon is from the Buddhist observance in China; it came to Japan in the 7th Century. In general, families return to their hometowns and visit the graves of their family tombs called "Ohaka mairi(お墓参り)". Families often prepare an offering in front of their "Butsudan(仏壇)" (family altar) on the evening of August 12th. On the evening of August 13th, some will light a small fire at the gate of their home to welcome back the departed souls of their ancestors.

Obon is not an official Japanese holiday but from around August 13-16, many people are off from their work and return to their hometowns or travel. It is peak travel season in Japan.

Pictures below are of my 3 nieces and 1 nephew, Stockton Obon 2009.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My Favorite Music

I love music. I've always been a "Top 40" radio guy.
I can count the number of albums/CD's I've actually went out and bought new.

I can remember the first 2 albums I bought.
The first album was my hero Elvis Presley. I was just 11 years old and ordered it from one of those TV commercials. It was COD (cash on delivery) and when the postman came to deliver it I was a few quarters short, but he was so nice and said not to worry, that he'd cover the rest for me. I think he could see how genuinely excited I was. :) The second album I bought was in 1978 at Tower Records; it was the soundtrack to Grease (I loved that movie!).

My favorite music is definitely from the 1980's. My high school years in the early 80's produced the best songs. Many good times and many good memories were made listening to those songs. Dancing to them at the many dances or singing along as I drove my car, these are some of my favorites:

- Another one Bites the Dust by Queen
Celebration by Kool & the Gang
1981 - Let's Groove by Earth Wind & Fire
Super Freak by Rick James
Tide is High by Blondie
Woman by John Lennon
1982 - Billy Jean by Michael Jackson
Hard for Me to Say I'm Sorry by Chicago
Planet Rock by Afrika Bambaataaa & The Soul Sonic Force
Rock the Casbah by The Clash
Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye
We Got the Beat by The Go-Go's
1983 - Holiday by Madonna
Time after Time by Cyndi Lauper
True by Spandau Ballet
1984 - When Doves Cry by Prince

When students ask who my favorite musician is I usually answer Eric Clapton. He is the last musician I've seen in concert. He's a great artist but a lousy performer. He doesn't engage or interact with the audience at all. I saw him a couple of years ago at Budokan in Tokyo. The Beatles (another one of my favorite groups) were the first rock group to play there back in 1966.

Let me finish by saying I'll miss Michael Jackson.
I doubt if there will be a better singer/dancer in my lifetime. His music and his moves on the dance floor were electrifying. May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Flea Markets

In Japan, flea markets are often mistakenly called "Free Markets".
Earlier this month, Aki and I brought a bunch of our old clothes and other misc. items to our local flea market (at Maronie). We were all set up by 9am and that's when a flood of people started coming. IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), we had the best stuff there and also the cheapest. Aki was selling her DKNY dresses for a couple of bucks. I sold some never worn (with tags still on it) Gap t-shirts for 200 yen. By noon, we had sold about 20,000 yen ($200) worth of clothes and other "junk". It was a fun day and we didn't do too bad for just a few hours "work" on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Another fun point about going to flea markets is that you get to bargain. In fact, it's probably the only place in Japan where people readily ask for discounts ("price down"). I was selling an old J-Crew vest which I loved for a dollar and the guy asked if I'd take 50 cents! He reminded me of my mom who will ask for a discount on something that costs a quarter (25 yen)! :)

Flea markets are quite popular here as they don't have garage sales like we do in the states. Temples or shrines are a popular place to have flea markets and they usually start very early in the morning.

If you haven't gone to a flea market yet, you should. There's something for everyone. Remember the old saying, "One man's junk is another man's treasure".

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Got Soy? Not Milk

Since about the age of 18, my body has rejected dairy products. If I drink milk, eat something with cheese or cream, I get a terrible stomach ache. Not being able to drink milk anymore is no problem since I never really liked it anyway. And nowadays it's quite easy to get soy anything.

As you can see in the pictures, I eat soy yogurt, soy ice cream and eat my cereal with soy milk. I recommend you dairy lovers out there to try switching to soy. It's healthier for you! Soy milk reduces cholesterol. Soy milk contains no hormones nor lactose. Soy milk contains only vegetable proteins. Soy milk is also rich in isoflavones, also known as cancer-fighting chemicals.

Do you know where soy milk comes from? The same country which has brought us paper, gunpowder, printing and silk also began the cultivation of soybeans earlier than 2000 BC. Of course, this country is China. Today, Brazil is the leader in soybean production as it surpassed the US a few years ago.

My other soy food favorites are: EDAMAME - a small green soybean that is usually boiled and served as a side dish, TOFU - made from soymilk that is curdled with mineral salts, MISO - a fermented soybean and grain paste that is used as a soup base.

Here are a few things to think about before you drink your next glass of milk. Isn't it strange that humans are the only animals that drink milk into adulthood. Is it natural for humans to drink cow's milk? So why do so many people swear by milk? Maybe it's because the Dairy Industry spends over $100 million dollars to build a demand for dairy products in the US. Lastly, did you know that the over 9 million cows in the US produce about 100 pounds of methane each per year? That amounts to almost a billion pounds of methane gas released into the atmosphere each year. This means that "Beef is a greenhouse-intensive food" and a major cause of global warming (with dairy a significant part of the problem).

I'll end by saying, in spite of all this, I still truly miss a nice CHEESE pizza!
Cheese is one of the only dairy products I miss that soy cannot really take the place of. Now I order my pizzas without cheese. I still enjoy the taste of the tomato sauce and crust but sure wish I could have some cheese! :)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Things I love about Japan

I've lived here for about 13 years total and there's no way I could have if it weren't for the many good points. So here they are not in any particular order. HOT SPRINGS (picture below in Beppu) - The first "onsen" I tried was Japan's oldest and arguably most famous, Dogo Onsen, in Matsuyama; this is also where I lived my first year in Japan and fell in love with this country. It's funny because at that time I just couldn't find the pleasure of sitting in a hot bath with a bunch of naked men. It probably wasn't until I was in my 30's that my "old" body could appreciate the healing and relaxing feeling of it all. KARAOKE (picture above of me and Susan when we entered a karaoke contest - and lost badly) - I actually only go a few times a year but always enjoy it when I do. The sound systems these days can make almost anyone sound like a pro. Plus, singing in English gives me a big advantage whenever I go with students, haha. FESTIVALS (picture of me carrying "mikoshi" taken last week at Odawara Matsuri, pic. on right at summer festival in Okayama when I was a JET) - I particulary enjoy the summer festivals, especially the firework shows. They are so much bigger and better than the ones I've seen back home on the 4th of July. I also love all the festival food (yakisoba, cotton candy, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, yakitori). So it goes without saying that my love of JAPANESE FOOD makes living here that much easier. A few of my other favorites are: sukiyaki, tempura, karaage (Jap. fried chicken), donburi and shogayaki. Another Japanese invention that is loved by all, especially every winter, is the HEATED TOILET SEAT. Not only does it warm your tush (bottom), it sprays up water to do the cleaning, very environmentally friendly! :) Of course, the "SAFE" feeling I have here is also a huge plus. Not that I feel in danger in my own country but I am constantly aware of it and it's something that you always have to be prepared for. Here I can walk the streets by myself in the middle of the night and not worry about being mugged or robbed. I'm not saying it could never happen but the odds are so slim here that it's not yet a concern for me. I'll finish by saying it's the PEOPLE. I'm almost always treated well here. This is not only by people who know me but also by complete strangers. Generally speaking, Japanese are polite and easy to get along with. I'm very grateful to all the kind people I've encountered and befriended here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

5-year wedding anniversary

"Time flies when you're having fun"! It's hard to believe it has already been 5 years of marriage. I know it's very short compared to many of you but it's the first milestone in our early marriage career. Sometimes I'm asked how being in an "international marriage" is. Well, I think that all marriages take a huge amount of work and effort and compromise and love regardless of who the 2 partners are.

Thinking back to our wedding reception in Stockton, I have so many fond memories. When else can you have all your family and friends together to celebrate "love". Aki was glowing in her white wedding dress and her excellent speech in English surprised me. My speech, on the other hand, was mediocre to bad. A lesson learned in "ad-libbing". So allow me to give another heartfelt "Thank you" to all our friends and relatives who drove (or flew) from as far away as LA. We both were so happy that you could help make our day (March 28) so memorable.

I promised my wife that on our 5 or 10 year anniversary I'd upgrade her wedding ring. Her diamond can barely be seen by the naked eye, unlike the "rocks" that can be seen adorning the hands of my married friends' wives, haha. Anyway, it looks like she will have to wait until our 10-year anniversary for her upgrade though. :) It's interesting, here in Japan many married couples don't wear their wedding rings. I think it's a waste to spend a lot of money on something that you don't use. It's kind of like the Palm I bought a few years back and never learned how to use; I'm such a technophobe!

On the topic of wedding anniversaries, I'm happy to say that my parents will celebrate their "Golden Wedding Anniversary" next year!